We all want to do our part to help end the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, most of us are not microbiologists, epidemiologists, virologists, or in possession of molecular modeling software and a supercomputer we could lend out on a whim. Luckily, there’s a local computer club that will allow you to help turn your rinky-dink laptop into one part of a massive distributed computer network.
Westchester PC Users Group is a collection of local tech enthusiasts based here in the county, who have joined together with the Folding@Home Consortium combine their PCs’ computing power to held researchers currently studying the physical shape and “folds” of proteins as they make their way through human cells and activate metabolic processes.
Normally, this process would take incredible processing power, available in very few supercomputers (which are typically controlled by huge corporations and world governments). Alternately, many computers running in parallel can complete the same tasks by creating a “distributed network” wherein each computer acts as a “node” communicating with others and gives up a little bit of its processing power when not in use. The result is essentially hundreds or thousands of PCs running the same software, working the same problem together, just like one enormous supercomputer.
“It’s great to take something that I enjoy — playing with computers — and use it for the good of mankind,” says retired computer consultant, WPCUG member, and Sleepy Hollow resident Joe Bruno. Bruno, one of four local users currently networking their machines to the Folding@Home network, is contributing six of his personal machines to the efforts.
Users simply download and install some software, generally in under 30 minutes, and leave the computers running. When otherwise not in use, the terminals’ processing power can be used by researchers all over the world to help model viruses and other protein-based interactions in human illnesses. Right now, Folding@Home has turned its attention to the protein mechanisms within the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself.
Users can join the F@H COVID-19 program directly, or they can join through WPCUG which is offers free summer membership through August 31 (normally $50 per year) along with 15 monthly workshops like digital photography, photo editing, upgrading and repair, Windows, macOS, mobile devices, and more.